Funding Boosts TB Research

NEW ZEALAND - Bovine tuberculosis (TB) research has received a boost with the award of a grant of $750,000 per annum for five years to AgResearch’s TB Immunology and Animal Health team from the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.
calendar icon 11 August 2010
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The team, led by Dr Bryce Buddle, has been working on developing a vaccine for TB in cattle that is effective, economical and compatible with current TB testing methods. Dr Buddle says a commercial spin off from the team’s research will be the potential for novel vaccines and diagnostic tests to be manufactured and sold to overseas markets, although this is a few years away. This new funding will enable the team to build on the breakthroughs that have been made to date and create biotechnological tools to protect cattle and deer against TB infection.

Dr Buddle says these tools will include vaccines to protect cattle against bovine TB, a new skin test for cattle that will reduce the incidence of false positive results and an investigation of diagnosing bovine TB from pooled milk samples using an antibody test.

“The prospects for a vaccine to better control and reduce levels of bovine TB are encouraging,” says Dr Buddle.

Although the current level of infection in farmed animals is low, the cost of maintaining this level and controlling bovine TB in New Zealand is over $100 million per annum. Dr Buddle says a resurgence in bovine TB would jeopardize consumer confidence in New Zealand products and put the country’s $13 billion beef and dairy industry at risk.

“New and low cost strategies are needed to control bovine TB if the Government hopes to meet its National Bovine Tuberculosis Pest Management Strategy Amendment targets and reduce the area where bovine TB is endemic in wildlife from 40% to 30% of the country.

“This funding will allow the team to pursue the development of low-cost strategies that will provide early detection and reduce the need for skin testing in vector-free areas.

“If successful, a test based on bulk milk sampling will also reduce the need for frequent herd skin testing, resulting in cost and time savings as well as reducing the likelihood of serious disease outbreaks,” says Dr Buddle.

In high risk TB areas, particularly where there are large numbers of Australian brush tailed possums that are the main reservoir of TB, the AgResearch team is working on a sophisticated two-pronged strategy against infection. This will include assessing the efficacy of the human TB vaccine, BCG, for cattle coupled with a novel differential skin test while at the same time developing a TB protein vaccine which does not induce a positive reaction in the caudal fold skin test.

“Our previous research has already shown that a TB protein vaccine combined with the BCG vaccine provides superior protection against TB. However, any vaccine we develop will have to be acceptable to export markets and not affect meat quality.”

Bovine TB arrived in cattle that the first settlers brought to New Zealand. The wasting disease is similar to human TB and the causative agent of bovine TB can infect humans through unpasteurised, infected milk with potentially fatal consequences.

Testing for TB infections was made compulsory in 1961 and while infections have slowly dropped in cattle, TB vectors – the wild animal populations, predominantly possums that carry bovine TB and infect farmed cattle and deer – provide a reservoir for the disease that are much more difficult to eliminate.

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